Rambo to the rescue
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"FCS ... in the spirit of Rambo" reads the legend on the back of John Bercow's t-shirt, just one item in a room filled with Ramboania deep in the heart of Conservative Central Office. For the Federation of Conservative Students, whose new chairman Mr Bercow is, has adopted a hard-line aggressive policy with the accent on machismo.
Mr Bercow, 23, is a Lambeth councillor in addition to his sabbatical work as FCS chairman, a post he holds until next April. After that, he hopes for "a little cot somewhere in the Conservative research department." Bright, punchy and selfassured, somewhat in the mould of party vice-chairman Mr Jeffrey Archer, Mr Bercow-is-a nice Jewish boy from Finchley who studied politics at Essex University, found it "a hot-bed of left-wing radicalism," and tried to do something about that.
Since his barmitzvah at Finchley Reform Synagogue, Mr Bercow has not been a practising Jew, "but I am Jewish and proud of it."
His first move at Essex was to join the Conservative Association, which had a low profile and only 15 members. By the time he left Essex it had withdrawn from the student union nd by dint of attracting people with its "morally superior ideology,' had grown to 207 members.
At the same time, he joined Essex Jewish Society, although he freely concedes that he did not spend a great deal of time with Jewish students. Mr Bercow's energies were taken up with establishing the Conservative voice on campus, and it seems clear that relations between him and the Jewish society were not over-cordial. He is particularly critical of "some people in the Jewish Society who, in order to maintain friends in the union, had to pander to other people's social mores," adding that "if people in the union are put off supporting the Jewish cause because the Conservative Association supports it, that is not a very intelligent position."
At one stage, he claims, he was summoned to a Jewish Society meeting and asked to explain his views. He refused, because he "resented being put in the dock."
Mr Bercow is the first Jewish leader of FCS and is understandably sensitive about allegations of links between the Conservative students and Rightwing organisations such as the British National Party or the National Front. The most spectacular example of this is Stuart Millson, Mr Bercow's immediate successor as chairman of the Essex Conservative students, who has joined the British National Party and was forced to take his final examinations in a "safe house" after the students' union protested at his presence on campus.
Mr Millson left the Conservative Party in May, but told the "Guardian" that he had maintained close contact with the BNP and the National Front while a member of the Conservative Party.
Mr Bercow is defensive: "I don't know of any political organisation which has not been infiltrated. This is a minority phenomeon and the difference with us is that when we find them we boot them out." Two FCS members at Nottingham University were expelled last year after being found daubing swastikas on campus.
According to the "Guardian," he took the minutes at a meeting calling for the repatriation of black citizens for MP Harvey Proctor's immigration and repatriation committee.
In 1983, Mr Bercow went to Israel with an FCS delegation and is, he says, a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel. He is keen to promote greater understanding of Israel's case and says that the debate on the Middle East "has not been conducted properly."
FCS's relationship with the Union of Jewish Students is clearly coloured by the fact that the Conservative students have withdrawn from the National Union of Students and according to Mr Bercow have no intention of working within the NUS framework again.
"NUS is clearly a Left-wing front organisation," he says, but the UJS is committed to working with NUS and this must ultimately affect the relationship with FCS. "The UJS attitude hasn't been very keen on us in the past, and we have no particular desire to enjoy formal relations - but informally, fine."